Eager travellers line up for hours in southern Alberta as U.S. border reopens

·4 min read
Highway 4 leading to the U.S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta., was clogged with traffic on Monday as the land border reopened to fully vaccinated Canadian travellers following a 19-month shutdown. (Joel Dryden/CBC - image credit)
Highway 4 leading to the U.S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta., was clogged with traffic on Monday as the land border reopened to fully vaccinated Canadian travellers following a 19-month shutdown. (Joel Dryden/CBC - image credit)

Travellers waited in traffic jams for up to three hours along Highway 4 in southern Alberta on Monday as the United States reopened the shared land border to non-essential traffic for the first time in 19 months.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection had warned there could be long wait times at the border as Canada's snowbirds flocked to the 24-hour ports of entry for the chance to travel by land to the U.S. for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic led to border restrictions in March 2020.

That was certainly the case in Coutts, Alta., where a long lineup kept vehicles waiting several hours on Monday to enter the U.S. at its Sweetgrass entrance.

Jim Willett, the mayor of Coutts, described the traffic congestion on the Monday edition of Alberta at Noon.

"There's a solid double-line of vehicles," Willett said. "It extends about six-and-a-half kilometres."

Ron Askin and his wife, on their way down to their second home in Yuma, Ariz., said they waited three hours in the traffic jam to reach the border crossing — much longer than in the past.

"Other years, 10 minutes, five minutes," Askin told CBC News. "I was expecting a couple hours."

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC

Professional golfer Darin Bertschi said he's heading down to practise in Palm Desert, Calif.

"It's just the opportunity to head down there and do what I like to do. It's fun, so I'm excited," he said.

With traffic at a complete standstill, drivers had their podcasts queued up and energy drinks at the ready to pass the time — and stay awake.

Some snowbirds camped for days, or weeks, near border

Many of those in line on Monday likely were among those who packed their motorhomes into a nearby campground for days in advance.

The Eight Flags Campground in the small windswept town of Milk River,18 kilometres from the border crossing at Coutts, was full of RVs.

"All of a sudden someone said the border's opening and it just went nuts here," said Helen Runka, who operates the campground.

"They said they've been waiting to go back to the U.S. for two years and they're not going to miss out."

  • WATCH | Travellers endure long line ups as land crossings at the Canada-U.S. border reopen

The campground, which has 35 sites, had twice the number of bookings for this weekend. Some overflow parking was being offered near a baseball diamond in the town.

Runka said it's surprising how long some of her guests have been waiting.

"The one over there on Site 3 will have been here 18 days by the time he goes over the border," she said.

"The other ones from Saskatchewan and Ontario ... they're only here for 14 days."

Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson Lisa White told the Calgary Eyeopener that land travellers can plan their visit to avoid lengthy delays.

Some of the best times to travel are mid- to late-afternoon on weekdays, or evenings on the weekends, she said.

"Come as early as early as possible. Avoid that late afternoon rush," White said.

Different requirements to enter U.S. than Canada

But travellers eager for a trip outside the country should be careful to bring the right documentation.

"It's a lot of planning, you know, between what's required to enter the United States and what to prepare for your trip back home," White said.

Once they finally get to the crossing, anyone aged 18 and older must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to enter the United States and should be prepared to provide proof of their vaccination status, while younger travellers are exempt from the requirement.

The travellers won't have to present a negative COVID-19 test, however, unlike in Canada.

When returning to Canada, all recreational travellers over the age of five must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their return flight or planned arrival at the land border.

Canada will accept only a molecular test — such as a PCR test, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Travellers crossing into the U.S. for short trips are allowed to take their molecular test in Canada and then use it upon their return — as long as it's less than 72 hours old.

Canadians who enter Canada without taking the test could be fined up to $5,000.

Canada reopened its land border to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9.

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC
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